It’s hard to believe another summer has come and gone, but here we are. The camp season of 2013 is memory and school buses are once again be a regular sight around many neighborhoods. There is always a feeling right after camp ends that someone pushed a fast-forward button. Campers and staff return home and begin reflecting on where the time went. But something happens in that reflection; they remember EVERYTHING they did over the summer.
Moments at camp happen so fast. The days are packed full of adventure. When campers and staff begin to inventory their summer memories, they’re often in awe of the amount of things they achieved in such a short period of time. In retrospect, the summer seems endless. There were the big adventures; trips, all camp events, campfires, shows, performances, leagues, Tribals, and Olympics. There were the daily activities; swimming, playing sports, arts and crafts, theater, circus, skating, fishing, etc. Those are the activities that seem to make the summer go on forever. Then there were the moments and events that stick out as really special; being with friends, creating that special craft project, riding a zipline for the first time, hitting a bullseye in archery, making a foul shot in basketball, getting up on waterskis. Those are the memories that freeze time. They’re the ones that make the summer of 2013, “Summer 2013” in hearts and memories. Those are the moments behind teary goodbyes, repeated camp stories, and the countdown for next year. Memories are a great dessert after a filling summer, and like every great dessert, everyone wants more.
Summer camp staff who thought they were just heading off for a summer job a couple of months ago are surprised to find that transitioning from camp life back to “real” life requires a bit of adjustment. Two months doesn’t seem very long in the context of real life. Most people in real life get up in the morning, go to work or school and then come home. Their environment as well as the people and things in it change several times throughout the day. At camp, however, staff are surrounded by the same campers, the same co-workers, and the same bunk or cabin mates day and night. The environment is fixed. This is what many people love about working at summer camp, and it does have many advantages.
In the real world, two months isn’t a significant amount of time to form friendships or lifelong bonds. But sleepaway camp isn’t the “real” world. It’s very easy to make friends when one spends so many hours of each day surrounded by the same people. The absence of technology encourages interpersonal communication, which means one gets to know a lot about others in a very short amount of time—more than you ever thought. Most camp staff also never thought they’d get so attached to their campers in such a short period of time. But they did. They cried when they said goodbye to their campers and again when they said goodbye to their co-counselors, now friends.
But now that camp is over and it’s time to live in the real world again for the next ten months, staff members are just starting to realize how much camp fever they caught over the summer. They find themselves wandering aimlessly listening for PA announcements or bugle calls to signify what time of the day it is, where to go, what to do, and when to eat. They walk into a supermarket and wonder what they should buy because their meals have been planned for them all summer, and peruse the aisles amongst surroundings that feel slightly surreal. Then the reality that they’re not at camp anymore finally hits them. They’re campsick.
Camp sickness is a common post camp feeling for campers, but many people don’t realize that staff members get campsick too. They get teary eyed when they’re driving along in their cars and a song that was popular at camp during the summer plays on the radio. They follow the camp Facebook page and remember the fun all over again. They even wear their staff shirts on occasion. But maybe the most valuable thing that lives on after camp are the friendships that are formed there. Even for those staff members who can’t return to camp summer after summer, it’s a great feeling knowing that two months in the camp world was enough to form solid friendships with people from all over the globe. The camp world is small, but the “real” world feels much smaller too after one has worked at summer camp.
Parents: By now, your pantries are empty, your laundry rooms are full, and your television remote controls have become affixed to your children’s hands. The campers are home, and they’re riding a camp high. They have a lot to tell you. Get ready to hear a lot of stories about camp (over and over), be let in on a lot of inside jokes that you probably won’t understand because “it’s a camp thing” (laugh anyway), learn everything you could ever want to know and more about new friends (excellent excuse to look at camp photos again with your children), and listen to camp songs and cheers (they’ll likely want to teach them to you too). Sometime around mid-September, you’ll probably start wagering with your spouse about whether your children will stop talking about this summer before next summer starts (not likely).
You’ll try to start conversations about things other than camp (you’re pretty sure you’ve seen an episode or two of Pretty Little Liars), but inevitably the conversation will come back to camp. (Remember the episode when Spencer realized that she’d been to summer camp with Hannah’s stepsister? And speaking of camp…) But just when you’re starting to feel camped out, something will happen this fall that will make you remember why you love hearing about camp. Registration for next summer will open. You’ll remember that this is the point every year when still hearing about this summer even though it’s time to start thinking about next summer transforms into music to your ears, and the lyrics are your children’s way of telling you that they love camp (even though by that time they’ve said they love camp about a million times). You’ll think about everything they’ve shared with you about camp, try (and fail) to count how many times they’ve used the words “Camp Weequahic” since they’ve returned home, and maybe even admire some of their arts & craft handiwork as you pat yourself on the back for deciding to give your children the gift of summer camp (then you’ll check the camp website for the Visiting Day 2014 date).